Column: 9/11 claim is unfounded

Published Apr. 16, 2015

Regarding the April 14 article "Former Sen. Bob Graham pursues claims of Saudi ties to Sept. 11 attacks," I would like to provide some facts that will help your readers better understand the truth involving the erroneous reports of a Sarasota family's alleged connection to the 9/11 attacks.

During the course of the 9/11 investigation, the FBI followed up on more than 500,000 leads and tips to determine who committed those heinous acts on Sept. 11, 2001. Most of the leads and tips, including this one about suspicions surrounding a Sarasota home and family, were fully investigated and determined not to be connected to the 9/11 plot nor related to any other threat.

In regards to the Sarasota information, the FBI followed up on all leads. Interviews were conducted of numerous individuals with knowledge, or who claimed to have knowledge, of the facts surrounding the Sarasota home and family, to include members of the family themselves. The original suspicions reported to the FBI were found to be unsubstantiated, and no other derogatory information was found.

Starting in 2011, a series of media reports again suggested a link between the Sarasota family and the 9/11 plot. By this time, the FBI had already concluded that these claims were inaccurate; however, we re-examined the issue, including updated database searches and review of relevant records. As the FBI has consistently stated, no link was found between the Sarasota family and the 9/11 hijackers or plot.

All documents and records gathered during the 9/11 investigation, including information regarding the Sarasota home and family, were made available to both the Joint Intelligence Committees Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission. This information included an unsubstantiated and poorly written report regarding the Sarasota home and family that has contributed to the faulty conclusions made in the press stories.

In January 2014, the 9/11 Review Commission was established pursuant to a congressional mandate to conduct a comprehensive external review of the implementation of the recommendations made by the original 9/11 Commission. Among other things, this recent review looked at the FBI's findings related to the Sarasota matter. On page 107 of the report, the commission concluded that the allegations that the Sarasota family was connected to the hijackers and/or the 9/11 plot were not substantiated.

It should be noted that investigative conclusions on any complex case are never the result of work done by any one agent and certainly not by any one document produced. That is especially true in a case of this magnitude that produced millions of pages of documents.

While it is unfortunate that unsubstantiated conclusions regarding the Sarasota family were included in one document, this information was thoroughly investigated and determined to be unfounded.

One document does not at all detract from the exhaustive efforts undertaken by thousands of investigators in this historic case in our nation's history. Rather, it represents the inherent danger of relying on raw documents to assert the knowledge of the totality of information known to investigators.

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Paul Wysopal is special agent in charge of the FBI Tampa field office. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.